Oh Apple, here we go again. Two years ago, Apple updated iOS with measures to throttle processors of devices with failing batteries. That part isn’t so bad, because such programming could actually save a device from either random instant shutdowns, or worse, a total failure of the processor. Unfortunately, Apple forgot to tell everyone what they were doing until some enterprising users figured it out and called them out.
Whatever the intentions and whoever made the call to roll with this, it didn’t go over well. It was a terrible decision PR-wise to take this battery health management and processor manipulation out of the user’s hands. After a couple of half-hearted explanations, Apple wised up and deservedly took their lumps and made changes.
They dispensed with all the secrecy and made battery health monitoring and management transparent, as it should be. Of course, what really smoothed things over with customers was a year’s worth of cheap battery replacements. I should know. We have an iPhone SE that got one of those replacements.
After this PR-hiccup and subsequent about-face, I thought Apple had learned their lesson when it comes to making heavy-handed, consumer hostile moves with no transparency. Unfortunately, after today it would appear not. Now, in a move that is sure to anger many, especially “right to repair” advocates, Apple has decided to restrict battery replacements for newer devices to models with special chips to assist in determining battery operation and health.
So, a battery replaced by an independent contractor will still work. However, Apple’s newer battery health features will not work. The information is replaced by a “Service” indicator. While this doesn’t absolutely prevent repairs by outside personnel, kneecapping this feature does actively discourage it.
Don’t get me wrong. Additional battery diagnostic capabilities are a good thing. I have no issue with that. It’s the fact that only Apple and their authorized repair outlets, like BestBuy, are able to activate these new batteries so that the Battery Health features work. In my opinion, if an independent repair shop can source proper batteries, then they should be able to perform sanctioned repairs on newer iPhones, as well. Battery replacements for older devices are bread and butter for such places, so Apple throwing a wrench in the works just feels petty to me. That, or incredibly tone-deaf and short-sighted. Neither is ok. A user should be able to get the battery replaced in an older iPhone without having to go to a specific place for it. I’ve done this many times in the past.
This new battery slip-up is not enough to put me off of Apple. I’m still a fan of the company’s products and will continue to be. I am not going all Callum Booth of The Next Web, whining about this being my last straw with Apple. It’s just that, while they make my favorite mobile gear, they also make some of the dumbest PR moves imaginable. It’s hard to believe that someone in the decision chain doesn’t stop and think about how moves like disadvantaging outside battery sales look to the general public. Sometimes common sense seems to be lacking at Apple Park.
Before anyone even starts to think about @ing me over how “Steve wouldn’t have handled things this way,” I invite you to revisit antennagate. The only thing that separates Jobs from Cook in this matter is the brass balls that Steve had to take some of the public positions that he did. He was able to get away with things that no other CEO could because of the combo of his cocky abrasiveness and impeccable track record. But make no mistake, just because he was better at spinning a negative situation his way doesn’t mean he was immune to PR gaffes.
The cure for Apple’s lapses in better judgement has always been public outcry. Considering that the Apple news cycle is in a bit of a lull at the moment with new iPhones a few weeks out, this story is getting plenty of traction right now. That should lead to negative public sentiment. The only unknowns are how much that will fester and whether this will move from just being a tech story to the public consciousness. If Batterygate 2.0 achieves that kind of traction, then we should see a conciliatory response of some kind from Apple.